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How to Modify Instruction for Exceptional Learners

Jacqueline Williamson graduated with a BBA in Personnel Admin., an MPA in HR Management and an MS in Education.

Every new experience is an adventure for exceptional students

Every new experience is an adventure for exceptional students

Try Thinking Outside the Box

This article is concerned with the modification of instruction for the varying abilities of students within the so-called “standard range,” students who have been enrolled in regular vocational classes. These students have been found to have special learning patterns; whether they do things exceptionally well or they need assistance in adjusting to a conventional learning environment.

This article is also designed to make the instructor aware of the general learning characteristics of gifted and slower learners and to give the instructor skills in planning their instruction so that the “special” student’s specific needs are adequately met. This should be accomplished without detracting from the more typical student.

In many cases, instructors tend to prepare lessons for the majority of students who fall in the “average learner” category. However, by preparing a standard lesson plan, the needs of the gifted and slower learner as well as the “average” learners are actually not accommodated. An instructor needs to plan to use teaching techniques that will help all students reach their highest learning potential.

According to the Cognitive Processes of Learning, there are three essential conditions for meaningful learning (R. E. Mayer, 1987): reception, availability and activation. The reception and availability conditions are met when teachers focus their learner’s attention on a problem and provide them with an anticipatory set or advance organizer (Glover & Corkill, 1990). Teachers fulfill the activation condition by modeling the inquiry process with skilled questions techniques. (Effective Teaching Methods 4th Edition—Gary D, Borich)

In order to successfully plan lessons for students with a range of learning characteristics, an instructor needs to be aware of the Cognitive Processes of Learning as well as the learning behavior of students. As the instructor observes students working in the classroom and laboratory, he/she can become sensitive to the particular needs and limitations of each individual.

To recognize and respond to those individual needs and limitations, the instructor will need an understanding of the general characteristics of gifted and slower learners. The following are lists of these characteristics.

Gifted learners finish sooner and will then become bored.

Gifted learners finish sooner and will then become bored.

Types of Learners

Gifted Learners

These learners are generally characterized as followed:

  • They tend to have good reading ability and enjoy reading.
  • They tend to be verbal and communicative.
  • They tend to be generally aggressive and competitive in the scholastic situation.
  • They tend to be independent, initiating more activities on their own and more frequently attempting to overcome obstacles by themselves.
  • They tend to be able to deal with abstract concepts and theoretical ideals.
  • They tend to be able to generalize, see relationships, and visualize.

Slower Learners

These learners are generally characterized as follows:

  • They tend to have low reading abilities.
  • They tend not to be aggressive or highly competitive.
  • They tend to learn physically (to understand a concept best if they can learn it through tactile means).
  • They tend to be able to deal with the real and concrete far better than the abstract and theoretical.
  • They tend to have difficulty in handling relationships, such as size, time and space.
  • They tend to be limited in self-direction, personal initiative, and ability to overcome obstacles.
Keep your students' mind stimulated with new tasks.

Keep your students' mind stimulated with new tasks.

Techniques for the Gifted Learner

Once the teacher identifies the special characteristics of the gifted learner, these are some of the methods the teacher should incorporate:

1. Keep the more capable learner challenged with new material. It is important that you have prepared new activities for the students and are ready to present them to the students as soon as they have finished the last task. They should have advanced work designed to extend the students’ abilities.

2. Maintain high expectations. More capable learners respond well to reasonable scholastic pressure. You should accept only high-quality work from the students. You should not allow them to become satisfied with mediocre performance.

3. Evaluate students’ work with care and thoughtfulness. Those who are more capable need praise and reward for exceptional results. However, they also respond positively to expert criticism of their efforts and probing questions about their knowledge.

4. Use discovery techniques. In laboratory and class work, purposely omit some instruction, insert some difficulties into the job, or leave some problems unresolved for students to overcome by themselves.

Care must be used in dealing with students who have differing learning rates and capacities. Slower learners are students who simply require more time to reach their educational goals. The more capable learners appear to learn rapidly without undue effort.

Slower learners need more patience and encouragement; start with the basics.

Slower learners need more patience and encouragement; start with the basics.

Techniques for the Slower Learner

The same systematic learning procedures should be incorporated with the slower learner. These are some considerations.

1. Provide opportunities for plenty of practice and drill. Practice can strengthen the bonds of learning and lead to greater and longer retention.

2. Provide the time necessary to learn. If a slower learner needs more time to master a new subject or skill, arrange for the student to have the time.

3. Teach visually. Slower students can often profit more from seeing a skill demonstrated well than from a verbal discussion. A well-presented demonstration can help to clear up what might otherwise be confusing or meaningless.

4. Use real experiences related to classroom instruction. Field trips specially planned to show certain operations being performed would help slower learners.

5. Use a physical approach to learning. Use a hands-on approach. Provide models or real objects for the student to manipulate.

6. Teach in small steps. Slower learners may need to know each step of the job from beginning to completion. They may need to be led carefully through the whole process before they can do it themselves.

7. Use a reward system for good work. Slower learners, who may be unaccustomed to success, tend to respond to reward in any form.

8. Use individualized learning material whenever possible. With well-selected materials, a slower learner can progress at his/her own rate and use learning techniques compatible with his/her own learning style.

After you adjust to this more effective method of teaching, you are ready to enter the next stage of development. As you become more confident in your ability to manage your diverse teaching environment; you should also be successful in dealing with a variety of behavior problems (if they should arise.)

Typically, this new stage of development will engage the following thoughts:

  • Where can I find good instructional materials?
  • Will I have enough time to cover the content?
  • Where can I get ideas for encouraging class participation?
  • How do I indoctrinate new concepts into my class?

The most outstanding instructors are the ones who teach on a level that addresses all basic student needs. Understanding your students is only the beginning of a successful teaching experience.

Now that everyone is gone, Dorothy is more focused.

Now that everyone is gone, Dorothy is more focused.

Practice What You Preach

Here is a scenario to gauge your understanding of these teacher concepts. It is a self-assessment for your information.

Dorothy is a new student in your Unified Geometry Class for Gifted Students. She has come to you from a neighboring state and her parents have been through a trying divorce.

You are giving a test on Equilateral, Isosceles and Scalene Triangles. It seems as if everyone is finishing up their examination but Dorothy. She is looking out the window or watching other students turn in their papers. Finally, when the last student has left, Dorothy begins in earnest completing her exam and brings it to you. Upon grading, you find that Dorothy has made a perfect score.

1. What type of learner is Dorothy?

2. How would you address her unique situation?

© 2013 Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS


Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on October 15, 2018:

All your students are special but some require more attention than others. It’s great when you can allow students to assist each other under your guidance and supervision. Remember, you are still the teacher!

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on March 16, 2015:

Thank you ... glad it was of some use!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on March 16, 2015:

your teaching tips are useful, more to learn from you

Johng938 on August 19, 2014:

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Johnc877 on August 19, 2014:

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Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on May 24, 2014:

Exceptional learning doesn't stop once the student reaches adulthood. Most teachers recognize these learners when they are juvenile but forget that adults can also continue to possess learning characteristics that can be identified as exceptional. Many employers fail to identify these workers and this can be a terrible mistake!

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on April 09, 2014:

Teaching Special Needs Students, whether children, teens or even adults requires patience, perseverance and dedication. It's not just about a "paycheck." It is about giving someone the greatest gift available - satisfying the thirst for knowledge.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 10, 2013:

Well said. I was a teacher for forty years and had children in class who ran the gamut of readiness to learn, ability to access knowledge, if you will.

My first task was to meet them where they were and to enable them to find their strengths and move forth. There were never any who would not try when they realized they were in a safe environment where they could make mistakes and it was ok. The gifted children were given the opportunity to excel.

For a classroom teacher who has a wide range of needs in her children including SED children it is challenging on a daily basis. "Understanding" is a pivotal starting point...again, well said.. Thanks for sharing.

Angels are on the way ps

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on November 09, 2013:

Thank you for your wonderful comment. I worked in the Special Education Dept. at the University of Memphis. Learning student behavior is paramount to successful teaching. I applaud your dedication.

wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on November 09, 2013:

I found this hub interesting and insightful, perhaps more so as I am a retired special education teacher. It is sometimes difficult and time consuming but it is important to closely observe students in order to better understand their learning styles and needs. Excellent hub!

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on November 08, 2013:

I have observed people for many years and I know it's a rare gift but I have this six-sense about my students. I would determine by her ability to finish so soon after everyone left that she possesses the skills but seems to be sidetracked. I would have a conference with her to discuss her problem.

I can see your point and appreciate your feedback. Thanks!

Marie Alana from Ohio on November 08, 2013:

It seems like Dorothy is an adult student who may be going through a hard time, but she is coping. Although she is going through a hard time, she was still able to get a perfect score. One can not determine whether a student is a slow learner or a gifted learner from one circumstance. There is more that has to be done in order to determine this. Great hub!